Missouri’s Sam wants NFL focus on his play

Posted Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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Michael Sam introduced himself and offered a short statement before taking questions during his Saturday media session. He knew what was coming.

Of the 29 queries he faced during his 12-minute interview, 18 related to his sexual orientation.

“I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player,” Sam said.

Reporters — some standing on chairs — crowded into the club level at Lucas Oil Stadium to hear the Hitchcock, Texas, native. Sam broke Johnny Manziel’s unofficial record for biggest media draw ever at the NFL Scouting Combine.

But if Sam hadn’t announced two weeks ago that he’s gay, his appearance in the media room would have attracted far less attention.

Though he recorded 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss and shared the SEC’s defensive player of the year award, the 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sam looks like a defender without a position in the NFL. And he isn’t likely to be selected until the late rounds of the seven-round NFL Draft in May.

“Sam has a tweener skill set and struggles to distinguish himself in any one area,” CBS draft analyst Dane Brugler said. “He’s a mid- to late-round player who will need to prove his worth as a nickel rusher to stay on an NFL roster.”

The NFL is rooting for Sam, who said he has received nothing but support so far.

“I applaud what he did,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said Saturday. “In the NFL, it’s a results business. Can Michael Sam help the Cleveland Browns win? If he can, then there’s a good chance he’ll be a part of our football team.”

Sam said he has received no questions about his sexual orientation from scouts. He expects to fit in an NFL locker room just as easily as he did in the Missouri locker room.

Sam, 24, wore a rainbow “Stand with Sam” button given to him by a Mizzou supporter at a basketball game he attended last week. He told his Missouri teammates he was gay before last season, but it wasn’t revealed to the world until his announcement to the New York Times and ESPN on Feb. 9.

“He’s caring to the team,” Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy said. “He’s always singing, which gets on my nerves some times. Other than that, he’s just fun to be around, fun to play with. I know at the end of the day, he’s going to come out and do his job. No other guy I would rather go to war with.”

Sam becomes the first openly gay player in the NFL, though he doesn’t consider himself a trailblazer.

“I feel like I’m Michael Sam,” he said.

Even though Sam talked repeatedly about making a name for himself, he’s already done that. He really didn’t need an introduction Saturday or even to refer to himself in the third person seven times.

Sam prefers the focus be on his football skills, but those questions might be even harder to make go away. He failed to record a sack in eight of Mizzou’s 14 games, prompting a question about his inconsistent play that ended the news conference.

“Winning is hard, buddy,” Sam said.

Charean Williams 817-390-7760 Twitter: @NFLCharean

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